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Adult Learner Network

Student activities include demystification and awareness raising; information on access, scholarships and other financial support


Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, two TAFEs and three senior secondary colleges in south-east Queensland partner on an adult learner engagement and support strategy focused on low-income adults bridging to tertiary study via generic tertiary preparation or Year 12-equivalent programs. Partnership activities include multifacetted learner support, staff professional development, research, shared professional practice, and public policy activism. The strategy extends from Caboolture to Brisbane, Logan and the Gold Coast.


  • Griffith University
  • Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
  • TAFE Queensland Brisbane
  • TAFE Queensland Gold Coast
  • Coorparoo Centre for Continuing Secondary Education
  • Kingston Centre for Continuing Secondary Education
  • Eagleby Learning College.

This partnership aimed to learn more about the motivations, learning experiences and outcomes of low-income adult learners bridging back to education, and to investigate ways to enhance their access to tertiary preparation and bridging programs, support program completion and facilitate transition to tertiary studies. An evidence-based approach was devised to inform both program delivery, and institutional and state policy development regarding these pathways. Strengthening cross-sectoral and cross-institutional collaboration and partnerships and sharing good practice are broad goals.

Initially funded by the Federal Government’s Diversity and Structural Adjustment (DASA) program 2009–2012, this partnership has been sustained with HEPPP funding and universities’ contributions.

Activities are guided by the Adult Learner Network Working Group with representatives from each partner institution. QUT and Griffith manage the operational delivery of activities, tailoring these to the contexts and individual needs of the non-university partners. Student activities include demystification and awareness raising; information on access, scholarships and other financial support; career development; on-campus experiences and university transition days. The capacity to offer financial assistance to students and subsidised learning support has varied with changed funding arrangements.

An integrated approach to public promotion of the programs has been an ongoing feature. Non-university partner staff have undertaken sponsored professional development workshops and receive regular program, institutional and policy updates. A website, Bridge to Study, provides online resources for students, staff and the general community.

Two research elements – focused on learners and the cross-sectoral partnership process – involved the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University, Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC), and the Department of Education, Training and Employment (DETE). Annual public symposia have reported on project progress, and generated discussion about emerging practice and policy issues relating to educational provision for adult learners. Research findings have been disseminated at conferences and to the Network members, and presented to Queensland policy and funding reviews relating to post-secondary education and training. The DASA-funded stage of the partnership involved approximately 6,000 adult learners enrolled over five semesters, 2009–2011. The transition to its HEPPP-funded phase (2012–2014) has sustained outreach and engagement activities and delivered on HEPPP requirements for improved cross-sectoral collaboration and partnerships.

Quantitative and qualitative information has been amassed over 2009–2013 from student and staff surveys, DETE enrolment and completion data, QTAC application data, and focus groups of university students admitted via these pathways. This confirmed these preparatory programs are high-quality and fit-for-purpose, suitable to low-income people, and reasonably effective pathways to tertiary study. The students are largely low-income or otherwise disadvantaged, have positive attitudes to learning and are very motivated to undertake tertiary study. Those who enrolled at university said they were well-prepared academically. Program outcomes were similar to those of other tertiary preparation programs, with completion and transition rates of approximately 50 per cent and 41 per cent respectively. Partnership activities coincided with a rise in program enrolments.

When this partnership commenced in 2009, neither Griffith nor QUT provided tertiary preparation programs, and local providers of adult tertiary preparation and Year 12-equivalent programs faced challenges. Consequently, there was a shared desire to collaborate to achieve enhanced outcomes from these pathways, especially for low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students. Federal government funding enabled the partnership and program implementation.

A management committee, comprising partner representatives was convened and developed a Program Summary formalising shared assumptions, principles and approaches. With the transition from DASA to HEPPP funding, program attributes were reconstituted as the Adult Learner Network and Network Protocol.

The Network meets regularly to monitor program implementation, address any emergent issues, coordinate activities and public policy responses, and as a community of practice. Partners are committed to working collaboratively to achieve Network aims and to widening the participation of disadvantaged people in tertiary education; however, each retains its autonomy and particular mission. Although funding was owned by the universities, it was allocated by a transparent and agreed process that allowed learner support activities to occur in each provider institution, and for jointly-agreed activities such as evaluation and symposia. This partnership works because:

  • Before delivering any activities, partners invested significant time and conceptualisation committing to a unified view and approach which was encoded in the original Project Summary, and more recently in the Network Protocol.
  • The DASA grant and institutional contributions enabled large-scale implementation, accommodating the needs of the partner institutions, amassing an evidence base relating to adult learners in these pathways, and positioning the program for continued funding via HEPPP and for a public policy role.
  • Program implementation accommodated individual partner institution autonomy and priorities, within an overall consensus of approach.
  • High levels of trust have been developed between the partners, with a shared commitment to social justice and the importance of the work.

This partnership has already successfully renegotiated end-of-grant (DASA) funding to sustain its work, demonstrating the value partners place on the work and their dedication to maintaining this. QUT and Griffith have committed institutional HEPPP funds to retain their dedicated adult learner staff, maintain key program elements, and expand their adult learner engagement strategies from their knowledge and contacts developed via the program. The Network monitors changing VET policy as it impacts on these programs and learners, informs senior managers and CEOs of institutional policy and student support implications, and maintains an advocacy role with DETE. The vision for a logical and comprehensive suite of bridging/preparatory programs across Queensland, with support for prospective and enrolled learners, is not yet fully-realised.


This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 4 May 2015 Posted in General, Low SES